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Limbless woman wins against drug firms

18 July 2012, 11:13

 Sydney - An Australian woman born without arms and legs after her mother took thalidomide during pregnancy on Wednesday won a landmark multi-million dollar settlement in her class action against drug firms.

Lynette Rowe, aged 50, is leading a mass lawsuit on behalf of people born in Australia and New Zealand with congenital defects between 1958-1970 whose mothers took the sedative thalidomide, made by German chemical firm Grunenthal.

Rowe claims her condition was caused by her mother's consumption of thalidomide and is suing Grunenthal, defunct British-based distributor The Distillers Company and Diageo, which took control of Distillers in 1997.

Lawyers told the Supreme Court in Victoria state that Rowe had reached a confidential settlement in her case with Diageo on Wednesday, describing it as a "multi-million dollar amount".

"[It] will be sufficient to provide a very good level of care for Lyn for the rest of her life," said Rowe's counsel, Peter Gordon.

Gordon said it was a "fair and consistent" result which showed compassion and understanding for Rowe, who has been cared for by her parents around the clock since she was born.

Priority market

Diageo had also agreed to negotiate with other claimants in the case, in which Gordon's firm said it had been contacted by "over 100 people" including two claims that were now "well advanced".

The case against Grunenthal will continue, but Rowe's lawyers plan to ask for the hearing, slated for October, to be pushed back to August 2013 to allow for settlement negotiations and for any final claimants to come forward.

Rowe's team claims that Grunenthal saw Australia as a priority market for thalidomide and "flooded" it with the morning sickness drug, with eight million tablets on the shelves when investigators finally linked it to birth injuries.

Gordon's co-counsel Michael Magazanik said Grunenthal had made numerous attempts to derail the case and now "refused to contribute to the settlement".

"The facts about Grunenthal and thalidomide need to come out," Magazanik said.

"Grunenthal never tested the drug on pregnant animals or followed up its effect in pregnant women, yet assured doctors the drug was exceptionally safe."

10 000 born with defects

Rowe wept as the settlement was announced in court, saying it proved that "you don't need arms and legs to change the world", and her now elderly parents Ian and Wendy expressed pride in their daughter's fighting spirit.

"Those pills that Wendy and thousands of other women took 50 years ago have caused so much heartache and suffering, but at least something positive is now being done to put some things right," said Rowe's father.

Thalidomide was launched in the late 1950s and sold in nearly 50 countries before being withdrawn later after babies began showing severe side effects from the drug, including the absence of arms and legs.

An estimated 10 000 children worldwide were born with deformities as a result of their mothers taking the drug.

Gordon described it as "the greatest pharmaceutical disaster in history".


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